Non-binary characters and pronouns

I’m just creating a new thread for this because there are obviously people who want to talk about it (@geldar, @dreaminggames) and I think this discussion might be cluttering up the ‘Options you want more often in games’ thread.

That’s true, but pronouns come up far, far more often than those terms, and it’s also not unheard of for people of binary gender to be referred to by those terms. Common, even. No one is going to bat an eyelid if I praise my binary friend by calling him a ‘good person’ instead of a ‘good man’. If you want to make a character’s non-binary nature visible, pronouns are in my opinion the way to go (especially when you only experience the character through text).

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Gender-neutral pronouns are far more often a dysphoria trigger than other gender-neutral terms, for both binary and nonbinary people. Using gender-neutral pronouns for all nonbinary people doesn’t solve anything, really.

Uh, hello? I’m nonbinary he/him.

I’m not trying to argue that anyone should be forced to use pronouns that they don’t want to. I’m just trying to make a point with regards to representation (which is how this whole discussion got started) that most people raised in a gender binary will not have an easy time remembering that a non-binary person who is being referred to with he/him (or she/her) is actually non-binary.

From a representation standpoint, that may not be terrible… I’d call it neutral. But I don’t think it really helps either.


Yeah and I am genderfluid.

Non-binary is a huuughe umbrella and most understand that our dyshoria is highly personal. I am all for more options for the player character to help that dysphoria, but most non-binary people out in the real world use them. Then she/they or he/they and then ordinary pronouns and then neopronouns.


Please try to not direct curses at one another.

Fair enough. This is getting a bit heated and I think I need to bow out.

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So you know nonbinary people who think “person” is dysphoric? Like @FabricSeat said even binary people use it when it’s normally gender-neutral term.

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I’ve enabled a ten minute slow-mode, because this can be a very personal subject and I want to encourage posters to take care and think about their posts before hitting the Reply button.

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I’d say that some of the differences in opinion here are likely arising from different goals in visibility/representation. Is the goal of the “nonbinary visibility” meant to benefit nonbinary readers, and provide possibility models/characters to see themselves in? Or is the primary goal of the representation to educate others and provide a kind of “nonbinary 101”? The strategies used in depiction will be influenced by the author’s goals with the character.

If the game is being written primarily for an LGBT audience, who likely have familiarity with these topics, it becomes easier to approach the topic with nuance, and a wider range of the full breadth of (incredibly diverse) nonbinary experiences can be explored.

If the game is aimed at more general audiences, though, introducing the reader to they/them pronouns or neopronouns can be valuable. The author may have to sacrifice some of the more nuanced aspects of nonbinary identity for the sake of clarity. (I’ve been working on balancing this myself, as a nonbinary author writing a game with major characters who are nonbinary).

That said, I’d argue that, even if the author indends their work for wider audiences, there is room for nonbinary characters who use “she/her” or “he/him” pronouns. Educating readers that there are nonbinary people who use those pronouns has value. Pronouns are perhaps the most obvious way to indicate the character’s gender, but there are others ways, as have been discussed. Gender presentation, having the character discuss gender identity if the topic comes up in conversation, etc. Just as in real life there are many ways to be nonbinary, I think there are many ways these games can effectively convey nonbinary identity to the reader.


True. There is value in letting non-binary people who use he/him or she/her have NPCs that they can see (more of) themselves in. It’s just that if I saw this in a game, I’d be very afraid of this being used as a way to ‘include’ non-binary characters while trying to make them palatable to people who would otherwise be against that variety of gender expression. I’m reminded of reading Around the World in Eighty Days, where in a very progressive move for 1872, the white male protagonist ends up marrying a Parsee woman and living with her in London—only it’s stated beforehand that she is ‘fair as a European’ and had been given an English education. Far above average for its time, perhaps, and I otherwise enjoyed the book greatly, but in the present I think we need to be a bit more skeptical of ‘representation’ that can be ignored by looking at it sideways.

Even if it’s not intended that way, a story is more than the intentions of an author. As a non-binary person using traditionally gendered pronouns, I know I would feel much more comfortable seeing a non-binary character using they/them than one like myself, because I know there are a lot of potential readers who would take that as license to misgender the character. They might not even do it on purpose, but I think we all know how hard the gender binary can be to break free of psychologically.

Maybe it would be different if I knew the game was intended solely for an LGBT audience, but I think that’s an unrealistic thing to specify. Even setting aside the sad reality that not all of the LGBT community is going to be sympathetic to every other part, in practice it’s extremely difficult to restrict audiences like that. If a game goes up on Google Play, Steam, or the App Store, anyone can buy it, read it, and review it. They can share it with anyone else they want and frame it however they wish. While in an ideal world this might be nothing to fear, that’s unfortunately not the world we live in yet.


Definitely can understand where you’re coming from. It’s unfortunate that we have to anticipate the most hostile/bad faith reactions when it comes to lgbt rep in games.

(For my own work, I’m taking it for granted there will be a lot of hostile/transphobic/homophobic reviews and responses, because of the nature of the game and having prominent lgbt characters. It’s just something we have to deal with, unfortunately.)

And I can understand the concerns about making nonbinary characters seem more palatable for the sake of catering to cis & heterosexual audiences. Likely depictions of nonbinary characters who use “he/him” or “she/her” pronouns would be most effective in games that also have characters using they/them or neopronouns as well, to show a wider range of representation. (And may also be best handled by nonbinary authors in many cases, who’d have a better idea of how to convey some of the nuances)


A bit of a digression, but like, is there a gender neutral version of niece/nephew that feels like it could fit in a medieval aesthetic.

Well, niece and nephew are descended from the Latin for granddaughter and grandson, so maybe you could use the gender-neutral Latin ‘nepotem’, for grandchild? Latin works well for medieval, I think.


I’ve heard “nibling” but that always sounded more modern to me. I suppose it depends on how you set it up, though (and most of these games are written in modern English, anyway, rather than how people might have talked in a medieval setting)


I like the idea of using Latin! Time to put my secondary school Latin studies to good use :^)


Yeah, the language it’s written in is often going to be the language you’re using, even if it’s not canonical. Though sometimes you do have to think about how things would be expressed in the canon language and whether it even makes sense that characters would mention it without at least cracking (though probably not breaking) the fourth wall. Like, I think for the game concept I have, pronouns (whether binary or nonbinary) may have to be chosen before the game rather than in-game to avoid breaking the flow of dialogue. Because even though it’s written mostly in English, (one of) the canonical language(s) doesn’t have gendered pronouns, so no character (who speaks that language) would ask.

Though, it’s not like most characters ask in Choicescript games anyway, so maybe it doesn’t matter and they just will use the correct pronoun.

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Just looked it up, technically came about in the '50s, so modern but not internet modern. I honestly expected it would be an old obscure word, like a few centuries old at the very least, since it sounds old to me. Funny that you think it feels modern :slight_smile:

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uh, please speak for yourself. we are all individuals, so i don’t doubt they could trigger someone for whatever reason. but to say they “far more often” trigger dysphoria in nonbinary people (or binary people, which i don’t understand at all) is something that sounds about as common as binary people being triggered by their own binary pronouns. not impossible but to blanketly speak for so many of us is in this way is absurd. if you have some resources or social media discussing how nonbinary pronouns have triggered nonbinary people, I’d be happy to read them. Please link cause I’ve never heard that perspective before.

can someone like… explain what this topic even is? i understand it was carried over from a different topic, but i can’t even tell what is actually being talked about right now. *what I’ve read so far seems like it could just be merged into the Matter of Respect or Differences in Portrayal of Trans characters threads